The NFL draft is still the focus this time of the year but the recently released 2013 schedule can be a more telling factor in how a team will fare next season. Take a look at the four teams in the AFC South this season. This division will likely be considered the weakest in the NFL by many but with fairly favorable schedules all around the records may not reflect that. These teams will all face a lot of travel miles which could take a toll on the results as Houston looks for a third straight division title.
Houston Texans: Based on win percentage from last season the Texans have the sixth weakest schedule in the NFL and the second weakest of any division champion from 2012. Houston faces long travel with every road game being at least 795 miles away but that is a problem for Houston every year given how far spread out this division is. Houston will play all three division road games in the final four weeks of the season and the final two home games are hosting New England and Denver for a very tough finish to the season. Houston will also have a tough start to the season with a brutal early set of games with Baltimore, Seattle, and San Francisco consecutively starting in week 3. Houston will play seven games against teams that won at least 10 games last season as the overall strength of schedule is brought down with two games against Jacksonville, a team that went 2-14 last season.
Houston also draws all four AFC West teams along with the rest of the division. Houston will play two games in the Pacific Time zone and four games in the Eastern Time zone so there are some challenges with this slate and the travel. While there are several games where the Texans will play as heavy favorites it will likely be a more difficult slate than the team faced last season even with the division as a whole looking like one of the lighter groups in the league. Houston still should be considered the favorite in this division and they have a schedule that is very similar to what Indianapolis faces but the difference between those two teams last season was much greater than the one-game difference in the standings indicated. Houston was 115 points superior in point-differential compared with the Colts last season and the Texans were 6-2 in road games, a record they could certainly repeat with this year's road slate, even with some tough games early in the year.
Houston Texans 2013 Schedule Numbers:
2013 Opponents Win Percentage in 2012: .473
Games vs. 2012 Playoff Teams: 7 (four home, three away)
Miles Traveled for 8 road/neutral games: 9,654
Back-to-Back road game sets: 1
Primetime Games: 4 (one Thursday, Two Sunday night, One Monday)
Indianapolis Colts: After the Colts went 11-5 last season for a great turnaround behind rookie quarterback Andrew Luck, there will be many projecting a division championship this season. By 2012 winning percentage the Colts have the third weakest schedule in the NFL and there are only six games against 2012 playoff teams. There is some significant travel on this slate however with three road trips to the western part of the country in addition to long trips to Jacksonville and Houston. The AFC South plays the AFC West teams which is certainly an advantage and the Colts draw Denver at home in what will obviously be a game that captures the nation's attention with Peyton Manning returning. The second place schedule brings tougher than they might sound games with Miami and Cincinnati however, compared with the fourth place slate the Colts dealt with last season in the turnaround.
The coaching staff also loses Bruce Arians who led Indianapolis for most of last season while Chuck Pagano battled leukemia. That storyline certainly helped to bring the team together last season and not having that focus could be a possibility this year. Indianapolis was 11-5 despite being -30 in point differential last season as this was a team that won nine games by seven points or less and this was not a particularly impressive statistical team. Luck was asked to do a lot last season and while he delivered in some big 4th quarter moments his overall numbers were not efficient and he could face a sophomore slump with the league having a whole off-season to break down his film. This division draws the very tough set of NFC West teams and the Colts will have a tough time going 7-1 at home again having to host teams like Seattle and Denver just in the first half of the season. The Colts are a good candidate to start strong however with home games the first two weeks and losing teams from 2012 in three of the first four games. The schedule in the middle of the season looks daunting and a slight step backward is likely in 2013 as this team was fortunate to win 11 games last year.
Indianapolis Colts 2013 Schedule Numbers:
2013 Opponents Win Percentage in 2012: .461
Games vs. 2012 Playoff Teams: 6 (three home, three away)
Miles Traveled for 8 road/neutral games: 8,977
Back-to-Back road game sets: 2
Primetime Games: 4 (one Thursday, two Sunday night, one Monday)
Jacksonville Jaguars: The Jaguars will certainly be spending some time in the air this season with several incredibly long trips adding to the challenges for a team with a new coaching staff, an unsettled quarterback situation, and coming off an ugly 2-14 season. Jacksonville opens the season with four of the first six games on the road with three of those six games in the western part of the country and all four games as a part of two back-to-back road trips. Jacksonville has winnable games in the first two weeks with Kansas City and then a trip to Oakland but it will be a great challenge in the next six games leading up to a week 9 bye. Jacksonville gives up a home game to play in London where they will face the 49ers and the only break in that scheduling is that San Francisco must make significantly further travel.
There are some opportunities in the second half of the schedule, playing Tennessee twice, as well as games with Arizona, Cleveland, and Buffalo. Even with the loss of the home game and the long travel this is a schedule that a contending team would envy with nine games against teams that had a losing record last season. Three of the final four games of the season are also at home and while the Jaguars are not expected to be in the playoff mix this is a team that could finish with some positive momentum. If the Jaguars fail to win in the first two weeks however things could get very ugly for this squad and by midseason placing a call to the Tim Tebow camp to sell some tickets might be a reasonable idea. It would not be a surprise if the Jaguars improve by several games this season however as there are a lot of games where Jacksonville should feel like they can win even for a team in transition.
Jacksonville Jaguars 2013 Schedule Numbers:
2013 Opponents Win Percentage in 2012: .508
Games vs. 2012 Playoff Teams: 7 (two home, four away, one neutral)
Miles Traveled for 9 road/neutral games: 15,748 (includes 3,996 miles to London)
Back-to-Back road game sets: 3
Primetime Games: 1 (one Thursday)
Tennessee Titans: The Titans started out last season 1-4 to finish up 6-10 overall with no wins over teams that made the playoffs. This will be a critical third year for head coach Mike Munchak as well as quarterback Jake Locker as this team needs a rebound season. This is a division where a quick turnaround is possible as the Colts proved last year and Tennessee may be a candidate to take a positive step this season. The Titans do have a tough start to the season with back-to-back road games in Pittsburgh and Houston to open the year but then there are three straight home games against losing teams from 2012. Long trips to Seattle, Oakland, and Denver will be on this slate and the Titans have to play three straight road games late in the year with two of those games out west.
The Titans have five home games against losing teams from 2012 and getting to play four games against teams that made a coaching change could also provide opportunities. Having to play the Steelers and the Jets as part of the third place draw is less favorable than most years but overall this is a slate where the Titans can have some success. Improving in the division will likely make of break the team however after Tennessee went 1-5 in division games last season. The Titans will likely need to find a way to at least split with the Texans and Colts to have a shot at making a move upward this season. The early stretch of home games will be critical for the Titans as they host the Chargers, Jets, and Chiefs in succession starting in week 3. They need to win those games to offset very tough games in the rest of the first half schedule to make sure that the season does not turn into a disastrous one.
Tennessee Titans 2013 Schedule Numbers:
2013 Opponents Win Percentage in 2012: .488
Games vs. 2012 Playoff Teams: 7 (three home, four away)
Miles Traveled for 8 road/neutral games: 8,477
Back-to-Back road game sets: 3 (including a back-to-back-to-back set)
Primetime Games: 1 (one Thursday)